One of my all-time favorite scenes in the Old Testament is the moment that Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. He had been separated from his brothers for 15 years, but God had blessed him in fascinating ways. It is evident to the reader that Joseph chose to forgive his brothers many years earlier. However, he would not reveal himself to his brothers until he had thoroughly tested them. He wanted to know if his brothers had changed—were they still capable of betrayal and deplorable acts such as they had done to him. He chose to zero in on his brother Benjamin—that would expose his brothers for who they really were. He first accused his brothers of being spies, and they responded by telling their story—we are 12 brothers, one is dead, and one is with our father. Joseph ordered one of them to be kept in prison while they returned home with food for their families. If they wanted more food and to secure the release of Simon, they would need to bring Benjamin.
They did finally convince their father that they had to take Benjamin with them. All seemed to go well when they returned to Egypt. They ate lunch at Joseph’s house, all seated in order of their ages, which was puzzling, and they watched as Benjamin was served a portion five times larger. The next morning all ten brothers were loaded and ready to go home. Then suddenly, Joseph’s steward stopped them on the road and announced there was a problem. His master’s silver cup was missing, and they were looking for it. The brothers, knowing they didn’t take it, were perfectly willing to be searched. They even announced that if it was found on any of them, that person should be put to death and the rest would be slaves for life. The brothers were horrified to see the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.
When they stood before Joseph, he asked them why they would do such a wicked thing. They were speechless. Joseph gave his final test when he announced that Benjamin was to be imprisoned and the rest could go free. Judah stepped up to the plate and pleaded that he be allowed to take Benjamin’s place because he promised his father to protect his younger brother. The brothers passed the test, and now Joseph revealed himself to them.
Joseph asked them to come close, and then he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!” (Gen 45:4). He told the brothers to not be distressed because God was working out his plan in spite of what they did. Joseph embraced each brother and wept. It was an intimate moment—all the servants were asked to leave. The servants quickly spread the word that Joseph was reunited with his brothers. This is evidence that Joseph had forgiven them. Everyone is learning for the first time who these men were. An unforgiving Joseph would have told everyone about the betrayal foisted upon him so long ago. That wasn’t Joseph, a man who learned to forgive.
Forgiveness brings closeness and connection. This intimacy is so real it brings tears, but none of this would have been Joseph’s or his brothers’ without forgiveness. When Joseph named his sons, he summed up his life and the power of forgiveness in the names he gave them. First came Manasseh, which meant, “It is because of God, who has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household” (Gen 40:50-52). Joseph tells us something very important about forgiveness—it is a work that God does in us and through us, if we will allow him to do it. God made him forget what his brothers had done to him and all the other trouble he lived. God took away the resentment and removed his desire to get even. Then when his second son came, he named him Ephraim, which means, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” Joseph again gives God the credit for the prosperity and accomplishments he has achieved. God did this in spite of the things that went wrong. True forgiveness is always accompanied by evidence, and Joseph had plenty of it.